The UIL All-State Journalism staff recognizes a small percentage of high school students who lead their school’s publication and place in press association competitions through the year.
Almost 10 percent of that elite group are products of the journalism program at Decatur High School.
Seniors Cristin Morgan, Madeline Pena and Paris Walther and 2012 graduate Arin Blaylock were among 43 students across the state who accrued the minimum 50 points to be named to the team.
“I think it’s neat that Texas recognizes this achievement in the first place,” Pena said. “They recognize top band and choir students and football players. Why not journalism, too?
“It also makes you realize how your hard work has paid off,” she continued. “We just went about what we normally do – we just posted a video, published a story. To get that recognized is really cool.”
“We did all these stories,” Walther added. “They took a fine-tooth comb in all these competitions and our accomplishments stood out. I think that’s neat.”
Throughout the year students earn points in a variety of competitions, beginning with summer workshop and continuing with UIL journalism and press association contests.
These include the Interscholastic League Press Conference awards, Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Circle Awards, Quill and Scroll and the Texas Association of Journalism Educators clip contests.
“It’s a year’s worth of winnings,” their adviser Cindy Berry said. “It validates what they do through 11 months of the year.”
Although many veterans of the DHS program have earned the honor, Berry contends it is no effortless feat.
“We’ve had two or three named to the team for the past several years, but it’s not easy,” she said. “There were only 43 kids out of the thousands that compete in journalism events across the state. And there is no set number (that can be named to the staff). It’s however many students earn the honor.”
Praising their talents, Berry also points out that being from a small school may be to their advantage in this competition.
“Our students get to do a little bit of everything,” she said. “The same student may write the stories, design the page, publish the story online. They can do it all, and they do it well.”
Pena, online editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Journal, is toying with the idea of majoring in journalism at her dream school, Texas Christian University.
Morgan, print editor-in-chief of The Journal, plans to study mass communications at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls with the intention of becoming a news anchor.
Walther plans to study ag communications at Tarleton State University in Stephenville. She served as the health and opinions editor of the newspaper last year but stepped down to focus on rodeo and ag involvement this year.
All three are “Youth Spoken” reporters for the Messenger.
Blaylock, who served as yearbook co-editor, is studying Plan II Honors (a liberal arts program with a senior thesis) and business on the pre-law track at the University of Texas at Austin. Although his career goals aren’t directly related to journalism, he said his experience in high school journalism has laid a sturdy foundation of skill sets he’ll employ in other fields.
“It improved my writing, my design skills and management skills,” he said. “I got a lot out of it. And this award is a testament to my feelings on journalism. I really enjoyed journalism in high school, and this is a payoff of that.
“It’s symbolic of all of the work that I put in and the fun times I had working in journalism.”
Berry added: “Rarely does a yearbook staffer make the all-state staff because they don’t enter as many contests. But he embraced opportunities in UIL writing.”
With the exception of Morgan, the students didn’t really expect the honor. But having earned it, all four appreciate its significance.
“It was a personal goal of mine because it was something to accomplish, but I didn’t think it was a big deal,” Morgan said. “But after they read it off in the announcements, people congratulated me in the hall. Then when it ran in the Update, people texted me, and I realized maybe it is a big deal.
“I mean, there were only 43 in the state of Texas,” she added. “We are (four) of those 43.”